Gershon Resnik, a Canadian-born New Yorker, knows some French, Italian, Hebrew and Yiddish, but the other day he greeted Israeli children in fluent Chihuahua.
With a red rubber nose, floppy pants and a big grin, he walked on stage (in Haifa, in a northern neighborhood of Jerusalem, in a West Bank city) holding a hula hoop. "I’d bark at the audience and try to get them to bark back at me," before jumping through the hoop, Resnik says.
His face marked with a few dabs of makeup, he was in Israel as Buffo, his clown persona. Paying his own airfare and hotel bills, he traveled to schools and community centers, as a volunteer, to entertain more than 1,000 children.
It was a "last moment" decision, as the violence of the intifada escalated. "I basically got on the plane."
Resnik, who lives on the Upper East Side, also went to Israel last year as Buffo, both times arranging his own itinerary. "I felt it was time to go back and bring a few smiles to the kids."
Resnik, 52, lived in Israel from 1968 to 1973. He was a paratrooper in the Yom Kippur War, a kibbutznik, and a college student. He returned to Canada, then the United States, to study acting. Some minor Off Broadway and film roles followed. "As an actor I couldn’t get arrested," he says. "So I started clowning." He saw an ad for a clown course, and enrolled. "I’m very impulsive."
A career was born.
Buffo (pronounced BOO-foe, it’s Italian for "silly") performs at camps and corporate events, children’s parties and Jewish schools. (He can be reached at 212 462-9461; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
His act: "Basically a clown. Juggling. I do stilts." A little magic. Some balloon animals. Some bubbles. A soccer gag. "Anything for a laugh."
The kids in Israel, he thought, needed some amusement. Because of the intifada, many entertainment children’s programs were cancelled. "A lot of their parents were in miluim [army reserves]."
So the youngsters welcomed him. "When I was performing, there was laughter. A lot of kids said ‘thank you.’ In Israel all the kids want to come up on stage. You’re like a rock star.
"The last two trips were the top experiences I’ve ever had in Israel," Resnik says. He plans to go back again this year, and perform again, up north, in Kiryat Shemona and other communities near the Lebanese border. "It’s another area" where he hasn’t brought Buffo yet. "I have a good time doing it."